Candidates spar

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 6, 2002

Gov. Don Siegelman and U.S. Rep. Bob Riley exchanged heated words Monday night in a gubernatorial debate that often focused on ethics and accountability.

In a debate televised live on Alabama Public Television, Riley accused the incumbent Democrat of losing credibility in Montgomery after a series of scandals involving no-bid contracts.

"Credibility is the one thing that we have to have if we are to move forward," Riley said, telling the governor "you can't have credibility."

In his defense, particularly in response to an opening question about the scandals, Siegelman admitted his administration has made mistakes.

"Over the last four years we have worked very hard. I believe we've made some progress. We've also made some mistakes, too," said Siegelman, who still said, "I have done nothing wrong."

Siegelman said his Republican opponent has missed too many votes in Congress and asked Riley to release his list of campaign contributors from a recent event that broke the national record for political fund-raising at a single event.

"You should be a role model to the kids in your district," Siegelman said, after asking Riley why he had missed more than half of the votes in Congress this year.

Riley defended the missed votes, saying that his own and his family's illnesses have kept him from Washington at times.

And he did not apologize for missing what he said were unimportant votes on Tuesdays when he began his gubernatorial campaign.

"I made up my mind … I would miss those votes because I want to change Alabama," Riley said.

On the issues, the candidates agreed that they disagree. Siegelman, who supports another vote on a lottery for education and wants corporations to pay their "fair share" in education taxes, said he does not want to see the Legislature unearmark taxes because it could result in lost education funds.

"Are we going to give every child a chance to reach their God-given potential?" Siegelman asked.

Siegelman also said he opposes any new taxes for working families.

Riley, who supports lifting many of the regulations that earmark 87 percent of the state's tax revenue, said that could mean more money for education.

"I will not take one dime of education trust fund money," said Riley, who until Monday had not provided details about his plans for education or other issues in the state. "Education is going to be my No. 1 priority."

Typically, both candidates' press secretaries were pleased with their bosses' performances.

"I think he hit one out of the park tonight," said Riley's longtime adviser Pepper Bryars, whose favorite line of the night was the Congressman's quote from Albert Einstein:

"Doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result is the definition of insanity."

Siegelman spokesman Rip Andrews said the governor was able to talk about the issues "despite the best efforts of the Congressman."

"Their main object is to distract the voters attention from the issues … that is why the Republicans will not win is because this election is about the issues," Andrews said.